Glynis Sullivan explores this popular Portuguese island
Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall, Madeira has it all. We have visited at New Year and at other times on cruise ship ports of call. but never for winter sun until this year, and it was worth waiting for.
Madeira is a beautiful, volcanic island in the Canary Islands chain, but lies north of the group of islands of Tenerife, Grand Canaria, and Lanzarote, the more popular islands for Winter Sun but although Madeira is cooler and possibly wetter it still holds a charm of its own
From the stunning Botanical Gardens to the Old Town where you can explore the quaint alley ways and colourful buildings however for the walkers amongst us, the Levada walks are the place to be so do bring your boots.
The tourist industry has taken a huge “hit” over the past few years but Madeira has survived and is getting stronger now the Covid restrictions have been lifted. You still have to complete the Passenger Locator Form going and coming back from your holiday: it can cause a lot of stress for Silver Travellers but ask your travel agent for help or get the grandchildren to help (how do they do it?). Masks are still required on airplanes but it is a small inconvenience for a holiday in the sun.
Our hotel, the Quinta da Penha de Franca (photo left) in Funchal, the capital, was set near the Old Town – so the brochure said – but it is a good ten minute walk to the old town. So be careful and check the brochures or ask your agent how far the old centre of Funchal is. Some of the bigger, more modern hotels are out of Funchal, up hills and a bus ride or taxi ride into the centre. Beautiful hotels but if you haven’t got the capabilities to walk long distances it is good to check exactly where the hotels are.
The Quinta da Penha de Franca is an old colonial Portuguese hotel set in lovely gardens with a heated swimming pool and an excellent restaurant. We stayed on a Bed, Breakfast and Evening Meal basis, which doesn’t suit everyone as many people like to eat out in the evenings. However, around the Quinta da Penha de Franca is a varied selection of good restaurants and pubs. The hotel does have a very good chef and the avocado with prawns and the scabbard fish are wonderful dishes, so eating at the hotel was a lovely treat.
Our walk into the old town took us past the harbour of Funchal which is used by many cruise ships sailing to the Canary islands. The infrastructure is very good and the walkway is modern and very pleasant to walk on, with shops and cafes along the harbour for you to stop and guess where the huge ships are going as you sit in the sun.
Once in the centre of Funchal there are many shops and restaurants, for you to enjoy. The Flower and Fish Market are well worth a visit and there you will see flowers that you probably haven’t seen before and even some fish you haven’t seen before! Don’t miss Blandys, the famous Madeira Wine making company. The shop is situated in the centre of Funchal. A tour of the wine making area can be organised throughout the day for 11 euros per person.
The cable car is located near the Flower and Fish Markets; it takes you up and over the town of Funchal to the Monte and Botanical Gardens. The cost is 16 euros return and 11 euros for a single to Monte but is more if you want to include the Botanical gardens. Return that way if you wish but a ride on the iconic Tobogan is another way down. It can be very busy on cruise ship days when up to 6,000 people desend on the town, so pick your day to go up the cable car carefully. The Tobogan run is world famous: two men with the straw hats and powerful arms take you down the hill on the run that has been used for centuries in Funchal. However, be aware that the tobogans only take you two kilometres down hill and you have to walk or get a taxi the rest of the way. A short trip but great fun and worth doing once in your life time. The number 22 bus from Funchal Centre to the Monte Gardens is another option, rather than going up the cable car.
The church of Our Lady of the Mount is on the top of the hill and it is well worth the climb to see this impressive building. But if you just want to go up on the cable car and “sit” awhile for coffee or lunch there are three good restaurants with wonderful views over Funchal and the distant sea.
There are Levada walks all over the island and you can get a guide book to do it yourself or organise a trip with your hotel reception who will arrange the pick up for you. We went with a guide to experience these amazing water ways around Madeira. Levada means “taken” and the narrow channels take the rainwater from the mountains and hills down to the valley below to houses, hotels and businesses. If you decide to do it yourself, the bus service in Madeira is very good and does take you to many of the Levada walks.
A trip on a local bus is also an “adventure” but in Funchal there is a ticket office that you can ask about buses or get a guide and the buses are plentiful. We went to Camara de Lobos which is where Winston Churchill spent many holidays doing his favourite hobby – painting – outside the Pestana Churchill Bay hotel. In front of this hotel, there is a life size bronze statue of Winston sitting in a chair painting which is very popular for photo opportunities. Camara de Lobos is an old fishing village but has moved into the twenty first century with lots of hotels and bars surrounding the harbour.
Sitting by the pool “chilling” out is often the order of the day for a Winter Sun break, but Madeira has so much to offer and enjoying a unique, pretty island is a joy. My recommendation is take a two week holiday to Madeira, do a little “chilling” and a lot of exploring. Stay nearer to the centre, one hotel to look at is the Porto Santa Maria which is an adult only hotel in the old town next to the sea and within walking distance of many popular attractions.
So Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall an experience of the lovely island of Madeira is one not to be missed. Whatever the season there is always a warm welcome on this Portugese Island in the Atlantic Sea.
Find out more by calling our Silver Travel Advisors on 0800 412 5678. They can give you further information and book a holiday in Madeira at any time of the year.